Student of the American Civil War

General Early Assaults East Cemetery Hill

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This was the first battle walk of 2015 at Gettysburg National Military Park, led by Troy Harman on Saturday, June 6.

The 33rd Massachusetts, 44th New York, and 153rd Pennsylvania were on the skirmish line in advance of the Union position.

You can see East Cemetery Hill in this view from East Confederate Avenue.  It’s a great view to show how dominating that hill really is.

The small ridge in the field across East Confederate Avenue, which is actually part of the Henry Culp Farm, concealed the attacking North Carolina troops from the Union skirmishers who were located approximately where the fence is today. These North Carolina troops were in Isaac Avery’s brigade, which was known as Hoke’s brigade. Robert F. Hoke had been wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville, and Isaac Avery, originally of the 6th North Carolina, commanded the brigade in his absence. They were the 6th North Carolina, 21st North Carolina, and 57th North Carolina.

In the distance, you can see a blue water tower. Hospital Hill is to the left of that water tower and Benner’s Hill, which was a confederate artillery position, is to the right of the water tower. Confederate artillery engaged in a long-range duel with the Union artillery on Cemetery Hill. In addition, the 5th Alabama and 4th North Carolina sharpshooters in the town were pinning men down on Cemetery Hill and preventing the artillery from moving forward.

At the time of the battle there was an orchard with peaches and apples in Henry Culp’s Farm field.  In one account, Isaac Avery took a nap under an apple tree.

Avery’s brigade arrived about 2AM on July 2, with the 57th North Carolina on the reverse slope of the ridge.

In this area, a small stream called Culp’s Run runs into Winebrenner Run, another source of water. The 21st North Carolina was located to the right, and the 6th North Carolina was located on the other side of Culp’s Run. Avery’s [Hoke’s] brigade actually had five regiments officially, but one regiment, the 54th North Carolina, had been left behind at Winchester and the 1st North Carolina Battalion Sharpshooters were serving as provost guard.

Isaac E. Avery’s grandfather was Waightstill Avery, the first Attorney-General of North Carolina and a man who had been challenged to a duel by Andrew Jackson. Isaac Avery’s father, Isaac T. Avery, was also an attorney and judge.

Henry Culp, the owner of the Culp Farm, was the tenth wealthiest man in Adams County in 1863.

Prior to the July 2 attack, the cannonade started at 4 P.M. and went on for about two hours. It was a duel of counterbattery fire between the Federal artillery on East Cemetery Hill and the confederate artillery on Benner’s Hill and other locations. The confederates were trying to gain the advantage by bringing converging fire onto Cemetery Hill, forcing the Union forces to dissipate their fire by firing at a number of different targets.

One account tells that at the end of the cannonade, a forlorn, sad bugle sounded, signaling the men to get up. Another account says Richard S. Ewell was spotted on the street and a bullet hit him in his wooden leg.

Be careful of the herd of cows if you go into Culp’s Meadow today.

At this point, Troy discussed the famous “Harvest of Death” photograph.

There is a controversy over where the photograph was taken. You can see various explanations here, here, here, and here.

 

Troy believes it was taken in Culp’s Meadow across from what is now East Confederate Avenue. He bases this on a number of factors. First, they are Union soldiers who still haven’t been buried yet. He told us the German-Americans of the Eleventh Corps were thought to be lower on the social scale than the rest of the Army of the Potomac. This would tend to lead to a delay in burying them. The 41st New York, 33rd Massachusetts, and the 153rd Pennsylvania were on the skirmish line. The confederates would seek to maintain the element of surprise by eliminating the skirmishers before they could warn the main line. Troy believes the confederates, due to the terrain, were able to come up on both sides of the skirmishers and catch them in a crossfire. Also, the men in the photo had 3/4 length overcoats with them. By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, only three units had been issued these overcoats: the 5th New Jersey, the 24th Michigan, and the 41st New York.

 

 

 

The reverse view of the Harvest of Death looks to be the field to the west of what is now East Confederate Avenue, which would have been the western part of Culp’s Meadow in 1863.

With that interlude behind us, we continued following the approach of Avery’s North Carolinians.

 

Colonel Archibald Godwin of the 57th North Carolina wrote the official report for the brigade due to Isaac Avery’s death during this charge. In that report, he said they had to pass over three stone walls.

Troy told us that Edward “Allegheny” Johnson had sent about twenty men to the top of Culp’s Hill on July 1.  All but four were captured by the 7th Indiana. The four who escaped managed to capture a Union courier who carried a letter from George Sykes saying the V Corps had arrived and was four miles from the battlefield. This letter was taken to Richard S. Ewell and may have played a factor in his deciding not to attack Cemetery Hill on July 1, leading to the need for this assault.

These photos show the view during the route of the assault showing East Cemetery Hill and Stevens’ Knoll.  The 5th Maine Artillery was on Stephens’ Knoll firing canister into the flanks of the attacking confederates. Between Stevens’ Knoll and Culp’s Hill was the Iron Brigade, placed there by Winfield Scott Hancock. They poured musket fire into the flanks of the rebels as well. “The men of Stevens’ battery were probably among the first artillerymen to fire on Early’s attacking lines. From their position on the knoll at the base of the west slope of Culp’s Hill, they could see across the east face of East Cemetery Hill to the town and to the right from there to Rock Creek east of the Culp buildings. At sundown, the Maine men were resting from their labors even though they could hear the roar of musketry from the east face of Culp’s Hill just 500 yards to their right. Some of the cannoneers had finished sponging the bores of their six Napoleons to clean and cool them, while others had transferred the ammunition remaining in their caissons to the gun limbers so that the caissons could be refilled at the artillery park. Now the sun had gone down behind South Mountain and Cemetery Hill; ‘the dusk of evening was creeping down the valley of Rock Creek and shutting out the town from view, and there was abundant promise of a peaceful night.’ After all, Civil War-period battles usually sputtered out with the setting sun. The officers of the battery had done a wise thing during the day. Using a range finder that they called a ‘French ordnance glass’ they had measured the ranges to various points within their field of fire, including the Culp buildings. Then, with the approval of General Hunt, they had checked their findings by firing a few rounds of solid shot. Thus, the battery’s officers and chiefs of piece were ready to do some reasonably accurate shooting if the need arose.” [Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill, p. 253]

A rise in the terrain in front of the Federal position protected the North Carolinians from being seen by the Union troops at the main line at the base of East Cemetery Hill, Orland Smith’s and Leopold von Gilsa’s brigades. Sometime during this phase of the assault, Isaac Avery went down with a mortal wound.  He wrote a note to his friend, Major Tate: “Major: Tell my father I died with my face to the enemy.” [Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill, p. 259]

Avery’s men popped over the rise close to the Union line, surprising the Union infantry and leading to hand-to-hand fighting to keep the rebels away.

Harry T. Hays’ brigade, consisting of the 5th Louisiana, the 6th Louisiana, the 7th Louisiana, the 8th Louisiana, and the 9th Louisiana, attacked on Avery’s right. The “Louisiana Tigers” were able to make it to the top of Cemetery Hill and engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with the Federal artillerymen on the hill. Col. Samuel S. Carroll’s brigade of II Corps soldiers came running from Cemetery Ridge and through the gate of Evergreen Cemetery.  They provided the needed reinforcements to push the confederates off the hill and save the day.

John B. Gordon was supposed to support Hays’ attack with his brigade, coming in on the assault after Hays’ troops attacked; however, Gordon never came up. Early never sent Gordon to attack because Robert Rodes didn’t press his attack on the western side of Cemetery Hill and Early believed that because of that Gordon’s assault wouldn’t help.

When you visit East Cemetery Hill you can see a drawing that depicts the confederate attack, an attack whose path we followed.

As usual, this was an outstanding battle walk.  Troy is extremely knowledgeable, and the battlefield is where he really excels.

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